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Scottish Universities strike amid pensions row

 

A wave of strike action by university workers has begun at institutions across Scotland in a bitter row over pensions.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) are planning 14 days of action in the coming weeks.

The UCU said more than 145,000 students will be affected by the strikes, with ten institutions ultimately taking part.

The dispute centres on proposals put forward by Universities UK for changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

Employers argue the pension scheme is £6 billion in deficit, while the union says the proposals would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.

A recent ballot saw more than four-fifths of UCU members back strike action in a 63% turnout in Scotland.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has sent “solidarity and thanks” to university workers while Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard visited the picket line at the University of Glasgow.

He said: “I am happy to show my support and solidarity with University academic staff who are taking a stand against a proposed punitive cut in their pensions.

Picketers outside Aberdeen University. (Darrell Benns)

“The Universities Superannuation Scheme needs to be properly funded and University employers need to be prepared to negotiate with the UCU to keep the Universities Defined Benefit Scheme open.”

St Andrews University said the “vast majority” of the institution is working normally on Thursday, with 250 of 2100 staff having voted to strike.

The University of Glasgow said the impact of the strike appears to be minimal.

A spokesman said: “We are still assessing the impact of today’s action, but can say that campus appears to be as busy as normal and we have not detected any significant impact on teaching or learning.”

Staff are striking on Thursday and Friday this week and Monday to Wednesday next week.

Further strike action is also planned for Monday March 5 through to Thursday March 8, followed by a five-day walk out commencing on Monday March 12 and ending on Friday March 16.

They are among 64 UK universities to be hit by strikes.

Due to academic timetabling, union members at the universities of Edinburgh and Stirling are not taking part in the action this week, but will participate in all the other strike dates and are also set to walk out on Monday 19 and Tuesday 20 March.

UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: “Nobody wants to take strike action, but staff across Scotland feel they have no choice. These hardline proposals would slash staff pensions and are simply uncalled for.

“It is staggering that the universities have refused to engage with the union and a real insult to staff and to students.”

Universities UK said it has met UCU over 35 times in the last year to discuss reforms.

A spokesman said: “UUK remains at the negotiating table, but so far UCU has refused to engage on how best to address the funding challenges facing USS. It is important now that UCU engages on how best to ensure the long-term sustainability of the scheme.”

He added there are scheduled discussions with UCU on key issues with the USS.

The spokesman continued: “The changes proposed will make USS secure and sustainable, safeguarding the future of universities.

“University staff will still have a valuable pension scheme, with employer contributions of 18% of salary, double the private sector average. This makes strike action very disappointing.”